Martial arts studio owner busted on voyeurism

Published: Saturday, May 30, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Police have charged the owner of the United Studios of Self Defense martial arts academy on the Boston Post Road with allegedly videotaping an employee and an underage student while they were undressed.

Joseph Moscatelli, 43, was charged Thursday night with two counts of voyeurism and one count of risk of injury/impairing the morals of a minor, according to police.

Moscatelli also owns the United Studios of Self Defense on North Main Street in Branford, police said. Branford police have been informed of the investigation.

Guilford police responded to a complaint about possible voyeurism at the martial arts studio at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, police said. Sgt. Robert Norman said an employee at the business found a DVD that included footage of one female employee and one female student under the age of 16 undressing in a back room of the studio.

The owner was not at the academy at the time, and employees called police. Norman said investigators seized evidence including computer and recording equipment.

It did not appear the recording had been made for security purposes, Norman said. State law defines voyeurism as when someone maliciously and knowingly records the image of another person while the victim is not in plain view, and is somewhere he or she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Norman said police are still reviewing the recording and investigating whether any other employees or students were involved.

“We’re basically urging anyone who has additional information to call our detectives,” he said.

Neither the Guilford nor Branford police departments have received complaints about Moscatelli or the United Studios of Self Defense, Norman said.

Moscatelli could not be reached for comment Friday. There was no answer at his home telephone number and a handwritten sign posted at his Guilford business said it would be “closed until further notice.” He was released on a promise to appear June 9 in Superior Court in New Haven.

The Branford studio was also closed Friday, but it was unclear for how long. Norman said Guilford police did not have anything to do with the Guilford studio’s closure.

The United Studios of Self Defense is a national franchise with schools in 17 states, according to its Web site. A call to the program’s headquarters in Lake Forest, Calif., was not returned.

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Guilford Finance Board raises tax rate to 20.04

Published: Saturday, May 30, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — The Board of Finance this week set the tax rate for fiscal 2009-10 at 20.04 mills, following voter approval of a $75.51 million budget at referendum last week.

In a brief special meeting, the board approved the tax rate by a vote of 4-0, with members Matthew Hoey, Michael Ayles, James O’Keefe and Kimberly Brockett in attendance.

The rate means that homeowners will pay $20.04 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property value. That translates to $4,080 a year for a house with an assessment of $200,000.

The new tax rate represents a 4.4 percent increase over the current levy of 19.19 mills.

The meeting this week followed a referendum May 19 at which voters approved the $75.51 million budget by a tally of 3,103 to 2,429. Voters had previously rejected a $77.12 million budget that would have increased taxes by nearly 7 percent.

Although the budget overall is set to rise 0.85 percent in the coming fiscal year, officials said the larger increase in the tax rate was due to a reduction in revenues and a decision to not budget in reliance on money from the fund balance. The funding for fiscal 2008-09 was $75.5 million.

This year was the first since 2003 in which the budget proposal initially failed in referendum. That year, voters also rejected the budget once before approving a lower proposal.

Fire commissioner eyes top Guilford seat

Published: Thursday, May 28, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Fire Commissioner Ken Wilson, who lost the race for first selectman to incumbent Carl Balestracci in 2007, has announced that he plans to seek the Republican nomination for the position again this year.

The Republican Town Committee is still in the process of interviewing candidates and receiving applications for positions, Committee Chairman Jim O’Keefe said. The group plans to announce its slate later this summer, with the caucus scheduled for July 28.

“I’m seeking the candidacy because this town needs new leadership,” Wilson said Wednesday. “There’s a demand out there in our town for change and I want to provide the voters out there in the town of Guilford with an alternative.”

Wilson, 56, is a member of the Board of Fire Commissioners and former member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. He is a retired manager with AT&T. He graduated from Guilford High School in 1970 and has two degrees from Albertus Magnus College.

Wilson said he decided to run for the position again because of what he called a “lack of leadership and mismanagement in the town.” In 2007, Balestracci won the first selectman seat over Wilson by a vote of 3,353 to 2,849.

“I believe there needs to be transparency in town government and also open up the lines of communication between the town departments internally and externally with the voters and the citizens in the town of Guilford,” he said.

O’Keefe said that Wilson has already filed an application seeking the Republican Town Committee’s nomination.

“Ken, a personal friend, is a lifelong resident of Guilford, has a distinguished record of civic involvement and brings promise of new and refreshing ideas on how to best manage our town in the years to come,” O’Keefe wrote in an e-mail. “I have no doubt that Ken’s service to our community will be exemplary.”

One of his first goals would be “fiscal responsibility,” Wilson said, including building up the town’s fund balance. Another focus would be economic development that is in keeping with Guilford’s historic character, he said.

Balestracci, who has been first selectman since 2005 and also held the position from 2001 to 2003, declined to comment Wednesday.

The full-time first selectman position pays about $95,000 a year.

The Democratic Town Committee recently announced that it is also interviewing candidates for elected positions for the November election.

For the first time this year, candidates for seats on the Board of Selectmen will run for four-year terms, following voter approval of a charter revision last year that increased the terms from their former length of two years.

Grant aids North Branford library

Published: Monday, May 25, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NORTH BRANFORD — Officials are putting the finishing touches on the Edward Smith Library, which reopened in February after a renovation and expansion, with the help of a grant from the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Christian Trefz, owner of the McDonald’s in North Branford, along with Ronald McDonald himself presented library officials with a check for $11,500 last week.

The grant has furnished the library’s children’s section with a wooden “castle” play space and additional bookshelves, Library Director Bob Hull said.

Hull said library officials had planned for a children’s area for imaginative play, but it might not have been possible due to budget constraints. Children’s librarian Debra Verrillo wrote a grant for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and Trefz worked with charity officials to secure the approval.

“We had always envisioned it and we always wanted a special area for the kids where they could kind of hide away and play and yet still be in view of their parents,” Hull said. “Either it was going to have to be something very, very modest, like just a couple of bookshelves, or we weren’t going to be able to do it at all.”

Hull said the library is still waiting delivery of a large cushion that will go inside the 12-by-12-foot castle. Other than that, he said, the only item left from the library’s construction is correcting a mistake in the color of the wood panels on the ends of the bookshelves.

The library nearly tripled in size, to 12,000 square feet. The town’s other library, Atwater Memorial Library, has now been closed in preparation for its own expansion and renovation. The combined cost of both renovations is about $9.5 million.

Hull said that the Smith library is now seeing about one-third more users than both libraries combined before the renovation.

“It’s extremely busy here and very gratifying to see the townspeople using it so actively,” he said.

Trefz said the donation was a good fit for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which supports programs geared toward the health and well-being of children.

“It’s really a great organization,” he said. “They chose the furnishings, which is a wooden castle play-scape and other furniture, and it’s just wonderful how this whole thing came together.”

Sneak peak Monday at Hepburn theater

Published: Saturday, May 23, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

OLD SAYBROOK — The public will have the chance to look around the still under-construction Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center during an open house Monday.

Executive Director Chuck Still said that the open house will allow people to see the progress on the theater, which has been under construction for about two years.

“We are going to open it up to the public after the (Memorial Day) parade so they’ll get a chance to see what’s going on inside,” Still said. “You’ll get a real sense of what the theater is going to look like in terms of being a room.”

The theater is in the “painting and molding stage,” he said.

The plans for the $6 million renovation of the center, which is at 302 Main St., include a 250-seat theater and a small museum about Katharine Hepburn, who lived in Old Saybrook until her death in 2003.

The 1911 building was originally a theater but was later used as Town Hall.

The renovation is being funded by $4.3 million from the town and $1.7 being raised by the center’s board of trustees, Still said.

Although the building is still under construction, Still said he is hoping that performances will begin in August and he has some events tentatively scheduled.

“It has been a much longer process than anybody anticipated, but it’s an old building and whenever you’re renovating an old building it takes longer than you think it will,” he said “It was actually used constantly until the last two years, so a lot had happened inside of it and it’s taken some time to restore it back to being a theater.”

The open house is scheduled to take place from noon to 2 p.m. Monday.

There will be refreshments — including Hepburn’s favorite brownie recipe — provided by Frankie & Gianni’s and Starbucks.

Guilford to get TRIAD program

Published: Thursday, May 21, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Senior citizens can learn how to protect themselves from financial scams and how to stay safe, thanks to a program announced Wednesday.

At a morning event attended by several older residents, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Guilford will be the 58th town in the state to initiate the TRIAD program. The goal of the program is to bring together law enforcement, private businesses and residents to make senior citizens safer.

“The idea of a TRIAD, as you might gather from the use of the word ‘tri,’ is to involve the three critical parts of law enforcement — police, businesses and citizens,” Blumenthal said. “The citizens in some ways are the most important part because you’re the eyes and ears of law enforcement.”

The program is sponsored by People’s United Bank, which offers support for an element of TRIAD called the Yellow Dot program. Angela DeLeon, Master’s Program coordinator for People’s United, said that the program allows people to assist emergency responders by placing a yellow sticker in their car windows and keeping a list of health conditions and other information in their glove boxes.

Guilford police plan to initiate the Yellow Dot program June 24 with a meeting at the community center, Deputy Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said the police department plans to have periodic meetings with seniors about issues affecting them. At Wednesday’s kickoff event, several speakers mentioned financial scams as a source of concern for older residents.

Blumenthal noted that his office has received many calls about phone and e-mail scams, in particular the recent calls indicating that a car’s “factory warranty” has expired.

“The economic threat is very real,” he said. “It used to be people would break into your home. … Now they can easily enter your home through your computer and fool you, deceive you, mislead you, because the Internet is such a powerful means of reaching people.”

Another element of the TRIAD program is the Silver Alert, a system like the Amber Alert for missing children to help find older people who may have Alzeimer’s or dementia. A bill creating the system has passed the state Senate and House of Representatives and is waiting for the governor’s approval.

State Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, and Rep. Deb Heinrich, D-Madison, also attended the ceremony.

“This is what makes Guilford a great community — we all care about each other, we all pull together to take care of each other and the TRIAD is a great example of that,” Widlitz said.

Anyone interested in participating in the TRIAD program is asked to call the Police Department at 453-8061.

Guilford gives a thumbs up on 2nd try, after spending cut

Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

GUILFORD — Voters approved a $75.51 million budget for 2009-10 Tuesday, a month after rejecting a higher proposal.

The budget passed by a total vote of 3,103 to 2,429, according to the town clerk’s office. With 36 percent of registered voters participating, the turnout surpassed that of the April 21 referendum, which saw a 31 percent turnout.

The $75.51 million budget is projected to increase taxes by 4.4 percent, to $20.04 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

The outcome was welcome news to town officials, many of whom gathered at Town Hall Tuesday to hear the results. After voters rejected a $77.12 million budget that would have raised taxes nearly 7 percent, the Board of Finance cut about $1.6 million from the proposal, resulting in the $75.51 million package.

The funding represents a 0.85 percent increase from the 2008-09 budget.

Board of Education Chairman William Bloss said Tuesday that the vote represented “The voice of hope and the voice of the future.”

Last week, Board of Education members announced they had reached agreements with all school district employees on pay concessions that should account for about $750,000 of the $1.18 million cut from the district’s budget. Teachers have agreed to a 1.22 percent pay increase for the next fiscal year, half of what was in their contract.

Guilford is the first town in the state whose teachers are part of the Connecticut Education Association to secure pay concessions from employees, Bloss said.

All of the concessions, which also affect custodians, administrators and secretaries and paraeducators, were contingent on the budget passing.

“Everyone partnered in presenting the most reasonable budget possible, including faculty, staff, parents and taxpayers,” Bloss said. “It took some vision and a lot of work, but it balances all of the interests as best as can be done.”

After the first budget proposal failed, the Board of Finance reduced the budget for the school district by $1.18 million, and funding for town operations by $429,000. School and town officials said the majority of the reductions would have to come from employee salaries and benefits.

The town has also reached concession agreements with some employees and is continuing to negotiate with other unions.

First Selectman Carl Balestracci said he was “relieved” at the results Tuesday.

“It’s a very austere budget, but indicative of what we need to have for these times,” he said. “We’ll do the best we can to provide the service with the monies that have been approved.”